Elden Ring is finally upon us and I will do my best to keep this review as spoiler-free as possible. A game that is this massive yet is so lovingly crafted should be, frankly, impossible. It features one of the biggest maps I’ve ever seen in a game, yet I never tired of exploring every nook and cranny I could find. In the week since review codes were sent out I’ve played over sixty hours across 5 different characters and all I want to do is play more. From epic boss fights to some of the most incredible art design I’ve ever seen, FROM’s standard phenomenal soundtrack, and excellent controls, this game is truly special. They somehow managed to live up to the immense, daunting, quite frankly unrealistic hype. This is FROM Software’s Magnum Opus.
This game is the culmination of everything learned starting back in 2009 with Demon’s Souls on the PS3. From Dark Souls 1, 2, and 3 to Sekiro you can see the bits and pieces that FROM loved most, though with Sekiro it’s mainly the fact that A is now a jump button. This is a Souls-like through and through with nearly every familiar system you’re used to. Gone though are things like weapon durability and leveling armor pieces. This game feels streamlined in all the right ways for me. Gone are the grueling corpse runs after dying to a boss as it rarely took more than a minute and sometimes only a few seconds to get back to one. This is a fully open-world game featuring one of the biggest maps I’ve ever seen. Not only is the surface vast and jam-packed with enemies and places to explore, it’s filled with tunnels, underground cities, crypts, vast dungeons, and more below the surface as well.
To aid you in this journey are bonf… I mean lost grace checkpoint hubs. They operate exactly how you would expect restoring your health, focus pool (mana), and flasks. This is where you can tinker with a wide array of customization options for your character that slowly open up as you play. Leveling works the same as the Souls series, though instead of the “Souls” currency you now acquire “Runes”. Each Lost Grace works as an instant teleport as well when you are out of combat and in the open world proper. Loading times on both Series X (where I played the majority of my time) and Series S rarely felt longer than 10 seconds and quite often were 4 or 5. The biggest new addition though is your spectral steed, Torrent. They are fast, nimble (coming with a double jump), and key to both cutting down time on initial journeys and in cutting down many of your open-world foes. Torrent cannot join you in dungeon areas, but the open-world itself is filled with many bosses who are designed with you being on horseback in mind.
This game is simply gigantic. There is no way to get around it, and smartly you do not use up stamina when out of combat anymore. Stealth is also quite useful here in another nod from Sekiro. Clicking in the left stick has you crouch down, and tall grass can conceal you from the conveniently blind and deaf foes. You can get right up behind someone and start dancing and they’ll rarely react seemingly only able to notice you if you run near or walk in front of them. Even with all this, the game can still be soul-crushingly difficult if you are impatient. What it isn’t is nearly as claustrophobic as the previous games were, at least when you’re in the open world. Any time you’re in the open world and things get a bit dicey you can quickly call Torrent and attempt to make a quick escape.
This is FROM’s most accessible game, yet it does not lose that trademark difficulty. Even at level 72 I still took massive amounts of damage from low-level enemies if I grew careless with my attacks. Bosses are monstrous in your first go-round, though each appears to have a weakness you can learn about and the early ones offer up NPC summons who can help you. You will still be dying a lot, but with the lack of long corpse runs it never felt as punishing to me. It was a learning tool, and each attempt I made saw me (sometimes slowly, sometimes quickly) make progress. Let us talk about combat.
Your Bumpers Might Die Too
Elden Ring carries on FROM’s tradition of having your attacks and shields tied to your bumpers and triggers. Each hand corresponds to the left and right ones depending on what you have equipped. You can change your handedness by holding down the Y button and then using the corresponding bumper. For a class that uses large weapons, this allows you to two-hand them for maximum damage and then quickly jump back to your ranged weapon as necessary. It wasn’t broken so they didn’t need to fix it, and it works great here.
The biggest change is the aforementioned A button as your jump. Previously it required multiple buttons and only worked while you were running. B is the most important defensive button in the game for most builds, the dodge. Holding it down allows you to run and Y is used for all your interactions. Depending on the class you choose, whether they be melee, ranged, or spell focused there is a ton of variety on offer. There are multiple built-in classes to start, or you can choose “hard mode” and begin things with no gear and a flat 10 in each stat. For veterans of the series, this may be the way to go as it offers you the most choice, but there does appear to be a way to fully reset your character though it’s not available until after a decent amount of time playing.
One of the few issues I have in the game is the mounted combat. Elden Ring utilizes the tried and true “click in the right stick to lock-on” system and when you’re moving as fast as you can while mounted the camera can whip around like a meth-head that just drank a 12 pack of Red Bulls. I also found the majority of the early game shields to be completely useless against the bosses and any mobs that did elemental damage, so I ended up playing a 2h focused Samurai for my main playthrough. Armor doesn’t appear to change at all as you play, and instead, the focus on leveling is mainly on your weaponry now.
The incredibly comprehensive review guide that FROM gave to us only mentioned the recommended level of your weapons for each boss encounter and scouring the map for the various mines and tunnels in each region is key as they are your main source of Smithing Stones which are used at the blacksmith to upgrade.
The game does feature the classic cooperative and competitive online components. A change now is that you can have up to 3 people in your game with 2 of them being co-op helpers or a mix of helper(hunter) and invader (they wanna kill ya). You can play the game offline but even then you’ll find NPC invaders (who force you to dismount) and NPC helpers (gold summon signs around bosses). Another big change that I greatly appreciate is a scaling system as I was able to join my brother’s much lower level character by using their password system. All summons are handled by a bit weird, very annoying summon system and you can’t simply just invite someone from your friends list to play.
The password system did allow me to play with my brother easily enough though and it scaled me down to match his stats and damage inputs. It is set up to be a “help with this one area” system though, as you cannot mount or enter new areas together during a summon. Killed a boss and want to keep playing together, well you’ll probably have to leave and then get summoned back to the next area. Thankfully though the reagents needed to craft the “finger remedy” needed to see summon signs are only two very easy-to-find Erdflowers, a big quality of life improvement over past titles for me. It’s not a great co-op system, but at least it’s not Monster Hunter!
George Really Really Martin
This is a brand new mythos created by George R.R. Martin of A Song of Ice & Fire fame. He created the backstory for FROM’s incredible writing team to birth forth something wondrous, mysterious, obtuse, and incredibly satisfying to uncover. I am not going to go into any specifics, as I believe this game is best experienced on your own with as little knowledge going in as possible. Just know that I love this weird, horrific, and utterly gorgeous Lands Between that they’ve created.
The game features a quality and performance mode with quality offering a 4k resolution at 30 frames per second, and the performance mode lowering the resolution but aiming for 60 fps. Playing the majority of my time before the day one patch it rarely held that 60fps on either my Series X or S in the open world, especially when it was raining. Playing offline did seem to help quite a bit, but we’ll have to wait and see what that initial patch does to tidy things up.
I am using a variable refresh rate enabled display so the classic FROM software frame-pacing judder didn’t seem to be a thing in either mode. It is by far their best feeling game on console, though I doubt it runs very well on the base Xbox One hardware. My early playthrough was on PC where the game trounced my poor laptop and its RTX 2060. Both PC and Console do appear to suffer from memory leaks, as restarting the game would offer improved performance over things if I had been playing for hours straight. This will be another thing to keep an eye on when it comes to that day one patch.
The art style though is on a level all its own. Technically this game might not be a marvel, but the art is some of the best I have ever seen in a game. We have been asked to only show off the first two areas of the game, and I’m a-ok with that. The beginning areas can be stunning, but some of the later ones are far and away the best I’ve ever seen in a FROM game. The scope and beauty are jaw-dropping, often, and the variety of landscapes is up there with the best in the open-world genre. Speaking of that open-world some more.
The “Open World” Perfected
Elden Ring has the best open world of any game I have ever played. There are no icons on the (at first empty and slowly as you find the pieces gorgeous) map unless you place them there. A few NPCs may give you directions at which point a big blotchy red wax mark appears but that has only happened twice for me in my entire playthrough. It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly why this open-world works so well for me. It is a combination of diversity, bespoke craftsmanship, readily apparent high quality, and unparalleled attention to detail.
Another welcome feature are the Stakes of Marika that reside near tough enemy encounters. These act as a respawn hub and cut down on needless travel after losing a tough fight. Enemy variety is as good and terrifying as ever with a mixture of small, medium, and large enemies that are all itching to slice you apart the moment they notice you. Fall damage has been greatly lessened, though it is still easy to fall to your death if you try, which greatly helps with your exploration across the Lands Between.
That exploration was addicting to me. I couldn’t help but search through every ruin I found looking for the white glow of a new drop. Constantly pressing the Y button to gather items on the ground to use in the deep crafting system never grew old. Every time I found a new vendor and purchased his unique items it was a thrill, as I couldn’t wait to jump over and see what new things I could create. There are so many different areas that all feel like someone, or a team of people went in and hand-crafted it to both balance the difficulty and make it worth seeing through.
I never once felt like an area was just copy and pasted on, even if a boss encounter was repeated (which only happened a few times out of many dozens) they added in new mechanics that changed things up so it still felt fresh and kept me on my toes. Running around on my spectral horse and being attacked by a ghost boat trying to smoosh me, on dry land, was absurd in the classic FROM way. Gigantic dragons breathing blue fire or shooting red electricity, enormous sword-wielding trolls flinging torrents of wind, there is always something new in each area of this world.
They have found the balance of being neither too full, nor too empty. The map has no icons, just (once you find the pieces of it for each region) beautiful drawings that help you infer what might be in each location. It encourages and lightly guides you, and side quests are rare and meaningful when you come across them. There is no guide, but NPCs are happy to restate what they need from you so that I rarely felt confused about what I needed to do next. If Halo Infinite was my dream checklist-style open world game then Elden Ring is the best version of the opposite of that.
Polished To A Neat Shine
The music and voice acting are as good as ever. The Elden Ring soundtrack has surpassed Dark Souls III as my favorite in their repertoire, and the voice acting stands far above what you would generally expect from a Japanese studio’s English dub. The script and the actors themselves are excellent, and the creature roars & sound effects are fantastic.
I had zero bugs with the game as well, with enemy pathing occasionally getting them stuck in certain areas but it happened rarely and is a common thing in a game like this. I had zero crashes on either console or pc. Accessibility wise there isn’t much there, and the overall options are rather limited. PC has a bevy of graphical options to try and maintain a smooth framerate, though console only has the previously mentioned “quality” and “performance” modes. It is a sadly rare occurrence nowadays to have something just work, which of course means that once the game launches chances are the online servers will explode and not work at all.
You’ll want to keep an eye out on how things go, as this game is looking to be an enormous release. Dark Souls III servers I believe are still down on PC due to hacking, and thankfully Elden Ring is using Easy Anti-Cheat which should hopefully prevent that from happening (right away at least).
Elden Ring is a masterpiece of a title, with only a few minor issues. The co-op summon system is a pain, and mounted combat doesn’t always feel the best. Other than that this game is staggeringly good in every single area. It does for open-world games what people claimed Breath of the Wild did. Every part of the experience is elevated by an insane attention to detail. Few games have ever left me feeling so enthralled for the entirety of my playtime. Whether you’re going it solo or with a friend Elden Ring is one guaranteed to be one hell of a time.
|Reviewed on||Xbox Series X|S, Windows PC|
|Available on||Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, Playstation 4 & 5, PC|
|Release Date||February 25th, 2022|
|Publishers||FromSoftware Inc., BANDAI NAMCO|
|Rated||M for Mature|